Tarte Tatin is the French name for a famous dessert invented years ago by the Tatin sisters, in their restaurant at Lamotte-Beuvron on the Loire River. It consists of caramelized sliced apples oven-baked in a skillet with the pastry on top. When done, it is turned upside-down so the crust is on the bottom and the apple slices – wonderfully brown, buttery, and glazed with caramel—remain in a design on top. The amazing thing about Tarte Tatin is how the caramelized apples are somehow transformed into something entirely new while still retaining their distinct apple taste. It’s one of the easiest desserts I’ve attempted it make, but also the most challenging. It’s easy because it’s baked upside down, which means there is no need for special decorations or even beautiful rolling of the dough. The real challenge is finding the right balance when caramelizing the apples. Julia Child captures the essence of the dessert in this quote.
“To be sure, a Tarte Tatin should be brown and sweet, but it needs to be more. The apples need to be cooked in sugar and butter long enough that they are not only coated in buttery caramel but also permeated with sweetness. Like what happens in jam-making, where some of the water in the fruit is replaced by sugar.”
Perhaps the most special part of this post is the pan that I used to cook the tart. On a trip to Paris last fall, my parents visited E. Dehellerin. Tucked away on rue Coquillière not too far from the Louvre, this store has been selling cookware for professionals and serious home chefs since 1820. According to my parents, it’s a store that definitely favors function over form, boasting aisles packed with pots and pans reaching as high as the ceiling. Julia Child was a regular here purchasing kitchenware while she attended school at Le Cordon Bleu. Knowing that E. Dehellerin is famous for their copper, my dad purchased a Tarte Tatin pan which was made specifically for this recipe. I was pleased to learn that not only does copper conduct heat faster, but it also does so much more evenly. This combination is perfect for temperature control when working with the sugar at a high temperature. Thanks dad!
The following recipe is courtesy of Julia Child’s book The Way to Cook, published in 1994. A Christmas gift from my dad several years ago, this is a magnificent cookbook in which Julia distills her knowledge from a lifetime of cooking into one book. In the book, she states that this recipe is her fourth and definitive recipe for Tarte Tatin.
Tarte Tatin Recipe
Ingredients for Pastry Dough
¾ cups flour
¼ cup cake flour
2 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons chilled butter, diced
2 tablespoons chilled vegetable shortening
¼ cup ice water, or as needed
Ingredients for Tart Tatin
6 Golden Delicious apples, cored, peeled and halved
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 ½ cups sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, as accompaniment
Preparing the dough. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, place the flours, sugar and butter. Pulse 5 or 6 times in ½-second bursts to break up the butter. Add the shortening, turn on the machine and immediately add the ice water, pulsing 2 or 3 times. The dough should look like a mass of smallish lumps and should just hold together in a mass when a handful is pressed together. If the mixture is too dry, pulse in more water by droplets. Turn the dough out onto the work surface and with the heel of your hand, rapidly and roughly push egg-size blobs into a 6-inch smear. Gather the dough into a relatively smooth cake, wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 2 hours (or up to 2 days).
Preparing the apples. Quarter, core, and peel the apples; cut the quarters in half lengthwise. Toss in a bowl with the lemon and ½ cup of sugar, and let steep 20 minutes so they will exude their juices. Drain them.
The caramel. Set the frying pan over moderately high heat with the butter, and when melted blend in the remaining 1 cup sugar. Stir about with a wooden spoon for several minutes, until the syrup turns a bubbly caramel brown – it will smooth out later, when the apples juices dissolve the sugar.
Arranging the apples in the pan. Remove from heat and arrange a layer of apple slices nicely in the bottom of the pan to make an attractive design. Arrange the rest of the apples on top, close packed and only reasonably neat. Add enough so that they heap up 1 inch higher than the rim of the pan – they sink down as they cook.
Preliminary stove-top cooking. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F for the next step, placing the rack in the lower middle level. Set the pan again over moderately high heat, pressing the apples down as they soften, and drawing the accumulated juices up over them with the bulb baster – basting gives the apples a deliciously buttery caramel flavor. In several minutes, when the apples begin to soften, cover the pan and continue cooking 10 to 15 minutes, checking and basting frequently until the juices are thick and syrupy. Remove from heat, and let cool slightly while you roll out the dough.
The dough cover. Roll the chilled dough into a circle 3/16 inch thick and 1 inch larger than the top of your pan. Cut 4 steam holes, ¼-inch size, 1 ½ inches from around the center of the dough. Working rapidly, fold the dough in half, then in quarters; center the point over the apples. Unfold the dough over the apples. Press the edges of the dough down between the apples and the inside of the pan.
Bake and serve. Bake about 20 minutes at 425 degrees F. Bake until the pastry has browned and crisped. Being careful of the red-hot pan handle, remove from the oven. Still remembering that the pan is red-hot, turn the serving dish upside down over the apples and reverse the two to unmold the tart. Serve hot, warm, or cold, with the optional whipped cream or ice cream.
Heather’s Helpful Hints
After you take your tart out of the oven, you can test to see whether it’s ready be unmolded. Simply tilt the pan, and if the juices are runny rather than a thick syrup, boil down rapidly on top on the stove. However, be sure not to evaporate them completely or the apples will stick to the pan. If a few apples stick to the pan—which does happen—rearrange the slices as necessary.